We can trace back our modern “War on Christmas” to the height of The Reformation. The year was 1583. The culprit was a passionate kilt-laden people who had the gall to try to fully enact Martin Luther’s sola scriptura concept (i.e. a Christian is to be guided by Scripture alone). Calvinist bans on Christmas actually began in Geneva and then migrated to Scotland with the spread of Calvinist theological views.
Both John Calvin (1509-1564) and John Knox (1510-1572) were the guys who spear-headed this radical transformation of society. In Knox’s case, the Protestant Reformation Movement in Scotland can also be seen as a revolution, since it led to the ousting of Mary of Guise, who governed the country in the name of her young daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots. Rulers feared Knox’s ideas more than the man himself; because the revolutionary philosophy that Knox held to taught people it was their duty to fight against government in order to bring about change. Knox can literally be given credit for greatly impacting the English Puritans that greatly influenced England and the forging of the American.
Paralleling England’s outlawing of Christmas story, Scottish royalty initially set out to root out the Protestant sect from their Catholic midst. Death came to some early church reformers in Scotland, such as George Wishart. Persecution came for others. Fortunately, John Knox was refined in the fires of persecution. He was sentenced to row in the French galleys for 19 months, and then exiled to England in 1549. While in exile, Knox was licensed to work in the Church of England, where he quickly rose to serve King Edward VI of England, as a royal chaplain. When Mary Tudor ascended the throne and re-established Roman Catholicism, Knox was forced to resign his position and leave the country. Knox first moved to Geneva where he met John Calvin, from whom he gained experience and knowledge of Reformed theology.
John Calvin was a guy in his own right that generated a lot of controversy. Not merely for controversy’s sake, but to radically shift people’s precious souls to line up with the new move of God. Calvin’s thoughts exerted considerable influence over religious movements, such as Puritanism, Presbyterianism and Reformed churches. His ideas have been cited as contributing to the rise of capitalism, individualism, and representative democracy in the West. Initially, Luther and Calvin had mutual respect for one another. However, a doctrinal difference in the interpretation of the Eucharist resulted in Luther distancing himself. Mr. Calvin was disheartened by the lack of unity among the reformers; he tried to be reconciled but to no avail.
When the ban on Roman Holidays (which included Christmas) caused quite a stir, John Calvin was blamed for being the instigator of the anti-Christmas action. There must have been a significant amount of individual freedom in the spread of Calvinism according to the Word of God and as unto the leading of the Holy Spirit, because John Calvin wrote a correspondence that if he had been asked for advice, he would have not supported this decision. Mr. Calvin was initially uneasy about the edict to ban Roman festivals, because he feared that the sudden change might provoke tumult, which could impede the course of the Reformation. We need to note however that Calvin’s view on worship was clearly stated and called the regulative principle of worship – all modes of worship must be expressly sanctioned by God’s Word.
John Knox and the Scottish Reformation repeatedly affirmed that true worship must be instituted by God – in His Word. In 1566, the General Assembly in Scotland articulated the position of the ScottishChurch: “concerning the festivals of our Lord’s nativity, circumcision, … these festivals at the present time obtain no place among us; for we dare not religiously celebrate any other festival day than what the divine oracles prescribed.”
They put an exclamation point to this statement by banning Christmas in 1583 (after Knox died).
David Calderwood (1575-1651) represented Scotland’s firm opposition in his day – Perth Assembly, 1619: “Indeed, the brazen serpent was originally constructed by God’s express command; yet it was destroyed when it became a snare to the people of God [2 Kings 18:4]. How much more, then, should we discard man-made observances, which are additionally contaminated with Roman superstition and idolatry?”
As I said, the “War on Christmas” traces back to the height of the Reformation. It follows the path of Calvinism which began in Geneva and flowed to Scotland where Christmas was banned in 1583. The Church of Scotland’s magazine, The Scottish Christian, tells us the Scottish ban on Christmas was only lifted in the 1950s, which also corresponds to the Presbyterians in the American South. That’s almost 400 years of outlawing Christmas!
It’s important to realize that Scotland had Christmas reinstated as a holiday due to the influence of foreigners (English and American) during World War II.
The Scottish ban on Christmas spread to England in 1644 when the Puritans of the English Parliament called on Scottish Presbyterians to support them in the English Civil War. There was an understanding that their alliance with the Scots would be in exchange for a ban on Christmas. Therefore, from 1644 to 1660, the English Parliament (some simply and say Oliver Cromwell) banned Christmas.
These attitudes were carried to the New World by English Puritans, Quakers, Baptists, and Scottish Presbyterians. In America, reprisals were as harsh as those in Scotland. In Massachusetts, a five-shilling penalty was imposed on anyone found feasting or shirking work on Christmas Day.
Copyright Dec. 4, 2012 – Author: Robin Main.
Most references to the things I write on this blog can be found in my book SANTA-TIZING: What’s wrong with Christmas and how to clean it up (available on amazon http://www.amazon.com/SANTA-TIZING-Whats-wrong-Christmas-clean/dp/1607911159/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1353692179&sr=1-1&keywords=SANTA_TIZING).